FRESNO — A Fresno jury on Monday decided that a Fresno man was guilty of murdering two men in 2009, but couldn’t decide whether his brother was involved in the shootings.
After four days of deliberation, jurors convicted Benito Salas, 37, of killing Jose Mendez, 49, and Paul Mendez, 38, at a graduation party in June 2009. Salas was also found guilty on two counts of attempted murder for shooting at two other people at the party.
The jury was unable to come to a unanimous decision about the guilt of Antonio Salas, 36, in the killings. The jury voted 8-4 to find him guilty, which is not enough for a conviction. Judge Edward Sarkisian Jr. declared a mistrial, which means Salas will be retried later this year.
Police said that the Salas’ and Mendez’s families were next-door neighbors in the 4600 block of East Turner Avenue in southeast Fresno who had been feuding for a long time. Police had been called to the neighborhood several times because of fights between the two families.
That feud turned deadly when shots were fired during a graduation party on June 11, 2009.
Witnesses said that it was Antonio Salas, not his brother, who fired the shots that killed the two men. However, Benito Salas confessed to the shootings. During the trial, Benito Salas testified that he killed the men and shot at others because he was trying to defend a relative who was being beaten up.
Prosecutors said that it was Antonio Salas who shot the two men, before passing the gun on to his brother.
After the trial, one of the witnesses, a relative of the men killed, spoke about being at the graduation party and seeing the incident go down.
“I did see him point,” said Anabel Vargas, referring to Antonio Salas. “He aimed and he shot that weapon.”
Vargas said that it was very upsetting that Antonio Salas will be getting a retrial.
“It’s the fact that we have to relive the whole trial again,” she said.
Defense attorney Roger Nuttall, who represented Benito Salas, said that he thought his client should have been acquitted or found guilty of manslaughter, not murder. However, he said that Salas accepted his conviction.
“When you killed two people, you accept your fate,” Nuttall said.
Benito Salas faces life in prison without parole. He will be sentenced on Aug. 10. Antonio Salas remains in Fresno County jail.